We already served you a nice dish of images of the big NATO & partners exercise Cold Response earlier, but the military photographers and the Norwegian military audiovisual unit have given us some more nice stuff! Press play and see more of the aircraft and helicopters that supported the 15,000 troops strong exercise in Northern and Central Norway, with even the Norwegian crown prince Haakon deployed, earning his tactical special operations parajump certification with the Norwegian Special Operations Command.
About 15,000 troops, including 2,000 of non-NATO member Sweden, 40 aircraft and helicopters, about a thousand vehicles and several ships and boats are currently kicking a** in Northern and Central Norway. Exercise Cold Response included the taking of the normally peaceful village of Namsos, situated on the shores of beautiful fjords.
The 7th edition of the multinational winter war exercise hosted by Norway brings units from mainly NATO countries together, to show what they can as “bad” and “good” force against each other. To train for a possible real war scenario and to show NATO’s current strange “friend” Russia that the North American-European alliance still can.
A giant winter war exercise is on its way in Norway. Cold Response 2016 kicks off in March, but already now preparations are on their way. Sweden takes it extra seriously, the country runs a pre-excercise of its own: Vintersol (Wintersun).
A few days ago a US Marines CH-53 Sea Stallion was offloaded from a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy on Vaernes Airbase in Norway. From 2 to 9 March the Marines will fight their way through the Trøndelag counties in Central Norway, together or against forces of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and, of course, Norway. It is such a big exercise that it will take another 13 days to repatriate all equipment involved.
Among the 15,000 troops expected to participate are many Swedes. To be fully ready a thousand Swedes are waging a winter war against each other from 5 to 10 February near Boden in the far north of the country. They include the crew of a NH90 helicopter – dubbed HKP 14 in Swedish service – flying in artillery command.
In 2018 Norway will see an even larger exercise when Trident Juncture is held with 25,000 participants.
“Joker 54, cleared for take off, VFR to Würzburg.” In chilly but beautifully clear spring weather, a Bell UH-1D Huey lifts off from Niederstetten airbase for an early flight. As the pilots raises the collective, the typical whopping sound chases away the morning silence. The sound earned the Huey the nickname of ‘Teppichklopfer’ or carpet beater. Local residents will hear the whopping for two more years, after which Transporthubschrauberregiment 30 (THR 30) stops flying the Huey and switches to the NH Industries NH-90TTH. Whether that helicopter builds a reputation as strong as that of the Huey, remains to be seen.
In a nearby hangar, ‘Joker 41’ walks among a dozen UH-1D Hueys and sniffs in their oily smell. Joker 41 is known to his colleague pilots also as Martin. “We all have our own personal call sign and this is mine”, says Martin, who has been flying the Huey since 2008. “It’s such a great helicopter to fly. Especially on take off, the vibrations in the airframe tell you almost everything you need to know. Your whole body vibrates in your chair, and it makes your voice garbled. It makes our radio transmissions hard to understand some times”, smiles the 33 year old pilot.
At Niederstetten, located in the heart of Germany roughly 110 kilometers south east of Frankfurt, a total of 40 Hueys are still being flown by about 50 pilots. Together with 900 other personnel, the pilots form Transporthubschrauberregiment 30, the last army regiment to operate to venerable Huey in German service. The chopper is used for transportation and liaison flight as well as special ops, a specialty of the newly formed Division Schnelle Kräfte (DSK) of which THR 30 is part. During the latest Cold Response exercise in Norway, six Hueys from THR 30 took part, dropping special forces in difficult terrain.
“Low flying is especially fun in the Huey”, says Martin. West from Niederstetten is a huge Helicopter Flight Coordination Area (HFCA) where crew train their skills while flying under 100 feet. “And we go really low, some times only a couple of feet. You then notice that the Huey is an old design however. It’s just not as agile as say a NH-90. If I see a tree line appearing ahead of me, I have to think ahead of the aircraft. The Huey takes time to respond to control inputs.”
Until recently the Huey was a sobering surprise for young student pilots. It first flew in 1956, has been produced more than 10,000 times and served famously in the Vietnam war. Martin: “The student pilots came here after flying the Eurocopter EC-135 at Bückeburg and were often shocked by the lack of autopilot or auto-hover. They discovered that the Huey is a true flying machine.”
With the withdrawal of the Huey approaching, no new pilots are coming to Niederstetten anymore. Instead, the first Niederstetten pilots are getting to know the NH-90 a little bit. The first new NH90 is expected in 2015, and in preparation new hangars are already completed.
But, no rest for the remaining Huey pilots, as THR 30 is also responsible for a nationwide search and rescue mission since this task was transferred from the Luftwaffe to the Bundeswehr (army). SAR duty is performed from Landsberg airfield in the south, Nörvenich in the west and Holzdorf in the east. At each location, two Hueys are on standby, recognizable by their brightly orange doors. Whereas the usual Huey crew consists of two pilots and one flight engineer, a SAR crew is made up of one pilot, one flight engineer and a medic.
It’s tasks like these that ask for tiptop maintenance on these 40 year old helicopters – as most German Hueys were delivered between 1974 and 1978. “We know every screw on these helicopters”, says Thomas Kaufmann, head of the maintenance department. “They are easy to maintain as they are about mechanics more than avionics. However, spare parts are becoming a bit of a problem. What we do, is fly the helicopters that have plenty of hours of left, using parts of others. I think the most hours for one aircraft is about 3,900”, states Kaufmann while he inspects a Huey’s 1200 horsepower Lycoming T53-L-13B engine. “We do all our inspections ourselves, except for the major overhauls. For that, we send them to RUAG in Oberpfaffenhofen.”
Local technicians grew up with the Huey and will therefore be sad to see it go in two years time. The NH-90 is aircraft maintenance on another level, but not necessarily more fun. Huey pilot Martin has faith in THR 30’s future workhorse however. “The German army operates the type in Afghanistan, and it performs pretty good. And we get, of course, a lot more agility and flexibility with the NH-90. Our NATO tasks demand that kind of capability from us.” Coming July, THR 30 is planned to take part in NATO helicopter exercise Hot Blade in Portugal, still using their current helos.
Meanwhile, the the airfield and surroundings reverberate under the thump of several UH-1D performing local flights. In the control tower nearby, ATC carefully observes all traffic. Niederstetten was build in the 1930s, and now sees 25.000 aircraft movements yearly. “We get a lot of visiting choppers, like US Black Hawks or Apaches. Now there’s a Dutch Chinook coming”, says the ATC staff as ‘Grizzly 52’ announces itself on the tower freq. Indeed, a few minutes later the Dutch helo appears for refuel. The flightplan shows it is on its way to Austria.
All of that is however of no importance to Joker 54, who now is returning from his VFR flight in the neighbourhood. Despite the perfect morning weather, Joker 54 decides it is time for a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) to Niederstetten’s runway 25. While the GCA-operator monitors the decent, the people of surrounding villages start hearing that familiar whopping sound again. The charismatic Teppichklopfer is coming home again, and its final home is at Niederstetten.
Editorial note: last name of pilot Martin has intentionally been omitted.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force should very much limit the operational use of its four Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, the boss of the RNoAF’s own HQ of Operations, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde writes.
According to Norwegian ABC Nyheter and NTB media channels the high-ranking officer expresses his worries in a recent letter in which he comments on the conclusions of the Swedish Accident Investigation board, two years after the fatal crash of a RNoAF C-130J against Sweden’s highest mountain: the Kebnekaise. All five crew members on board perished.
The commanding officer feels the transfer from the older C-130E/H to the new C-130J went too quick, with too little start-up training time for the crews, too little time to come to adequate routines to fly the new aircraft and not enough personnel appointed to man the new Super Hercules’s. Until things have been fixed, the RNoAF should refrain from using the new Hercules in daring or operational situations, like tactical flying by aircraft 5630 during Cold Response 2012, the general feels.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force operates four C-130J-30s from Gardermoen IAP, where they replaced six C-130E/Hs. The first Julliet arrived in November 2008, the last in June 2010. After the crash of aircraft 5630 against the Kebnekaise on 15 March 2012 during operational exercise Cold Response 2012, the United States quickly allocated one of the C-130Js in production for its own forces to the Norwegians. This replacement arrived in September 2012.
In its accident investigation report, officially released on 23 October 2013, the Swedish committee (Haverikommission) states that the RNoAF crew training and crew documentation were partly to blame for the accident, as well as the Swedish air traffic control at Kiruna Airport and the main ATC in Stockholm.